Category Archives: Puddings

Yorkshire Curd Tart

Ah, Yorkshire. God’s Own Country and my home county (well, it’s 3 counties technically, but let’s not worry about that now). There are many delicious regional recipes to be found there, but this must be the best: Yorkshire curd tart. For some very strange reason it hasn’t really ever made its way out of Yorkshire. Essentially it is a baked cheesecake – something that Britain isn’t considered famous for, yet if you delve into the old cook books, you’ll find loads of recipes for them. The cheese in question here is, of course, curd cheese which is sweetened with sugar, and mixed with currants, allspice and sometimes rosewater.

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Now a few guiding words on the making of a curd tart: no matter what you read, and I want to be very clear on this, cottage cheese cannot be used. It must be curd cheese which is very different in taste and texture to cottage cheese. These days it is difficult to get your hands on it, but it is very easy to make yourself, as you’ll see below. Also, the only spice to be used must be ground allspice (or clove-pepper as it used to be called in Yorkshire). Not cinnamon, not nutmeg, and certainly not mixed spice. Another misconception is that lemon curd is spread on the pastry base of the tart. Well it’s not, Mr Michelin Guide. Lastly, and as already mentioned, it’s a kind of cheesecake, and not some kind of custard tart as some people seem to think (Mr Paul Hollywood, I’m looking at you).

Ok. Good. Glad we got those issues out of the way.

Curd tarts were traditionally made around Whitsuntide from left-over curds from the cheese-making process and seem to originate in the early-to-mid 17th century. Most families kept their own cow in those days. For those of you that don’t know (and who does?), Whitsuntide derives from the words White Sunday which is our name for Pentecost, which, if my memory serves me correctly, is the seventh Sunday after Easter. The important thing is that there’s a Bank Holiday the next day and a whole week off for half term for the schoolkids.

In dairy farms with several cows, special curd tarts would be made after the cows had calved, using the cows’ colostrum to make the curd for the tarts. Colostrum is the milk produced straight after a mammal gives birth. It is particularly rich in nutrients and fat, and is yellowish in colour. I’ve always thought of this as a bit mean of the dairy farmer’s wife, but then again, she’d also have to tuck into umbilical cord pie the next day, so I suppose it evens out.

To Make Curd Cheese

It’s really easy to make your own curd cheese. All you need is some gold top Channel Island milk, some rennet, salt, and some muslin or other cloth to drain the whey from the curds; I have used an old pillowcase in the past with much success.

Rennet is an enzyme that curdles milk. In the old days a piece of a freshly-slaughtered male calf’s stomach lining would have been popped into the milk (as still occurs in the production of some non-vegetarian cheeses). These days with the magic of science, we can produce it from bacterial culture.

This recipe makes around 750g curd cheese.

In a saucepan, warm a litre of Channel Island milk to 37⁰C, also termed ‘blood-heat’. Use a thermometer if you like. Pour the milk into a dish or bowl and stir in half a teaspoon of salt and your rennet. Follow the instructions on the bottle to see how much to add, as different brands vary. Stir it in, along with half a teaspoon of salt.

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Leave the milk to stand for 10 or 15 minutes. Upon your return, you’ll see that the milk had gone all wobbly and can be easily – and satisfyingly – broken into curds.

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Scald your straining cloth with water straight from the kettle, spread it out over a bowl so the edges hang over, and then pour in your curds and whey. Tie up the cloth with string and hang up the cheese above the bowl to strain for 4 or 5 hours. Hey presto! You have made curd cheese. It keeps for several days covered in the fridge.

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To Make a Yorkshire Curd Tart

Here’s the recipe I use which is based on the one that appears in Jane Grigson’s English Food. It makes enough filling for one 10 inch diameter tart tin, though you can make several small ones if you prefer. The recipe only requires 250g of cheese, so if you’re making your own, you might want to adjust the quantities in the recipe above, or just make three tarts.

The tart is not overly sweet and has a lovely soft centre and a golden brown colour.

125g salted butter

60g caster sugar

250g curd cheese

125g raisins

pinch of salt

2 eggs, beaten

¼ to ½ tsp ground allspice

1 tsp rosewater (optional).

blind-baked 10 inch shortcrust pastry shell (made or bought)

First of all, cream together the butter and sugar well, then mix in the cheese, raisins, salt and eggs. Season to taste with the allspice and rosewater.

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Pour the filling into the pastry shell and bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 220⁰C. Cool on a rack.


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Spotted Dick

It’s been a while since I wrote a post on a good old British steamed pudding, and this is one of my all-time favourites. Spotted Dick is a great pudding because it lies somewhere in between a suet pudding and a sponge pudding and is borne of that period of prolific pudding invention: the Victorian Era.

If British puddings are new to you, I’ve already written a couple of posts on the history of puddings (the first one here, and the second one here).

If you’ve never heard of Spotted Dick, it is a spongy steamed pudding that contains suet instead of butter. It is only slightly sweet and flavoured delicately with lemon. The spots on the Spotted Dick come from currants. You don’t want a pudding that is too sweet, the sweetness – I believe – should come from the currants and the custard that must be served with it (for a custard recipe, click here).

For some unknown and crazy reason, Spotted Dick doesn’t appear in my favourite cook book of all, English Food by Jane Grigson (to see why it’s my favourite, see my other blog).

Now for the big question: who the heck is Dick?

The pud is first mentioned in a book from the 1850s by the famous Chef Alexis Soyer called The Modern Housewife, or, Ménagère. Alexis Soyer was the first celebrity chef and he deserves a whole post just to himself! He mentions Spotted Dick in passing when listing a typical week’s meals during tougher times. This was Tuesday’s dinner:

Tuesday. – Broiled Beef and Bones, Vegetables, and Spotted Dick Pudding’

The ‘Dick’ in Spotted Dick seems to come from the shortened Old English names for pudding: puddog or puddick. In Scotland it is often called Spotted Dog Pudding.

Spotted Dick is a very simple pudding to make; it can be steamed in a basin or be rolled out like a sausage and covered in buttered foil and then steamed. Sometimes it takes the form of a roly-poly pudding with the currants and some brown sugar making the filling. Personally, I prefer to use a basin.

Anyways, here’s the recipe:

For a 2 pint/1 litre pudding basin, that serves 6 to 8 people:

300g self-raising flour

150g suet (fresh or packet)

75g caster sugar

100g currants

Zest 2 lemons

275-300 ml milk

butter, for greasing

In a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, suet, sugar, currants and lemons. Add the milk, mixing slowly until all is incorporated. You’re looking for a mixture of dropping consistency.

Liberally butter a 2 pint pudding basin and spoon in the mixture. Cover with a lid. It’s easiest to buy a plastic basin with a fitted lid. If you’re using a glass or porcelain basin, make a lid from a double sheet of pleated foil and secure with string. It is worth making a foil or string handle for the pudding so that you can get the basin out of the steamer safely.

Ready for the steamer!

Place in a steamer and steam for 2 hours. Make sure there’s a good brisk boil for the first 20 minutes and then turn the heat down to medium-low. If you don’t have a steamer, simply place an upturned saucer in the base of a deep saucepan and pour over it boiling water straight from the kettle. Gingerly place in the pudding.

Turn out the pudding onto a serving plate and serve immediately with plenty of custard.


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Filed under baking, Britain, cooking, Desserts, food, General, history, Nineteenth Century, Puddings, Recipes, The Victorians, Uncategorized

Syllabubs

Today the syllabub is rather an unfamiliar dessert but from the 17th and early 20th centuries it was a pudding staple. It has gone through some minor changes along its way but its essence has remained the same. Originally milk was sweetened and mixed with cider sack – a sweet fortified beer not unlike sherry – and left to curdle and treated as a drink served hot or cold. At the same time at more solid version was being made with cream and wine and spirits. More recently less alcohol and more cream was used producing a dessert that could stand in a cool place that would remain delicious, soft and fully whipped – this was known as an ‘everlasting syllabub’.

The Sense of Taste Philip Mercier (1680-1760)

Detail of The Sense of Taste by Philip Mercier (1680-1760) showing a salver of syllabubs

The word syllabub comes from the name Sille, an area in the Champagne region of France that made the eponymously named wine, and the word bub, an Elizabethan slang word meaning a bubbling drink, hence Sille bub – wine mixed with a frothy cream. In fact it was a case of the frothier the better, and the best way to achieve this is to spray milk straight from the udder (which has a natural froth) into the wine, this kind of syllabub was also called ‘Hatted Kit’ and a recipe appears for it in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housewife:

“To make a Syllabub under the cow

Put a bottle of strong beer and a pint of cider into a punch bowl, grate in a small nutmeg and sweeten it to your taste. Then milk as much milk from the cow as will make a strong froth and the ale look clear. Let it stand an hour, then strew over it a few currants well washed, picked, and plumped before the fire. Then send it to the table.

elizabeth raffald

 Elizabeth Raffald

Charles II found this sort of syllabub so delicious that he kept cows at the palace in case he got a hankering for some Hatted Kit – he would walk up to one and squirt some milk into his flagon of wine, sack or cider.

If you are a tee-totaller, don’t worry because Sir Kenholm Digby, writing in 1669, gives recipes for syllabubs flavoured with plum juice, cherry syrups and Seville orange.

By the 19th century, the syllabub was generally made from whipping cream together with sweetened wine. The wine was flavoured with lemon and fortified with a little brandy, and it is a recipe for one of these everlasting syllabubs that I give below. It comes from Elizabeth David’s 1969 pamphlet Syllabubs and Fruit Fools (which can be found in her book An Omelette and a Glass of Wine).

Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub with Almond Biscuits

Elizabeth David

The ingredients of a syllabub, we find, are simple and sumptuous. The skill demanded for its confection is minimal, the presentation is basic and elegant.

Elizabeth David


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These syllabubs were the original topping to trifles before plain whipped cream took over. They are often served with jellies or with sweet biscuits so I’ve given a recipe for some simple crisp almond biscuits too.

The most important ingredient here is the wine; you can use any sweet or dessert wine, by personal favourite being a nice Muscat. I managed to get hold of an excellent and very reasonably-priced organic free-trade one from Case Solved Wines in Manchester.

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This recipe makes between 4 and 6 servings

Ingredients for the syllabub

8 tbs sweet or dessert wine

2 tbs brandy

pared rind of one lemon

60g (2 oz) sugar

300ml (½ pint) double cream

freshly grated nutmeg

The day before you want to serve the syllabub, mix the wine and brandy in a bowl, add the lemon peel and steep overnight.

Next day, strain the wine into a large bowl and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Pour in the cream and whisk until thick. Be careful not to over-whip the cream. Spoon into glasses and scatter a few raspings of nutmeg over them.

For the biscuits:

100g (4oz) butter

50g (2oz) caster sugar

150g (6 oz) plain flour

50g (2 oz) ground almonds

Cream the butter and sugar together and then mix in the flour, and finally the almonds. Bring the mixture together with your hand to form a dough – it’ll be very ‘short’, i.e. crumbly, but it will come together – don’t be tempted to add any water or milk because it will result in a biscuit that is not crisp, and you don’t want that. Roll out the mixture to the thickness of a pound coin (about 3mm) and cut into rounds.

Bake for 8-10 minutes at 200⁰C (400⁰F) until tinged with golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight tub.

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Treacle Tart

A classic British nursery pudding, the treacle tart is much-loved. It is probably the ultimate child’s dessert because it is so unbelievably sweet; it makes my teeth hurt just looking at one! That aside, I have never really lost my sweet tooth and I love treacle – meaning golden syrup of course in this case (see here for a post on treacle). Treacle tart was very popular with poorer families – the two main ingredients being bread and treacle – no expensive fruits and spices here.

The pudding itself as we know it has only been in existence since the late nineteenth century since golden syrup was invented in the 1880s. However, the earliest recipe I have found for a treacle tart actually dates to 1879 – before the invention of golden syrup! The recipe is by Mary Jewry and is a tart made up of alternating layers of pastry and treacle. The treacle here is black treacle, and this highlights the problem in researching the origins of this pudding; treacle meant any viscous syrup that was a byproduct of sugar refinery and specifics are not always pointed out, even after golden syrup became popular. The other problem is the recipe Mary Jewry gives is nothing like the beloved treacle tart from our childhood.

 The terrifying Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

coaxing the children with shouts of  “treacle tart! All free today!”

Shudder.

 

Prior to the 17th century, treacle was used as a medicine; it was considered very good for the blood and was therefore used in antidotes to poisons. It starts cropping up in recipes for gingerbread in the mid-18th century. Jane Grigson mentions a gingerbread recipe from 1420 in her book English Food where spices and breadcrumbs were mixed together with plenty of honey to make a gingerbread that seems pretty similar a modern treacle tart, but without the pastry. Heston Blumenthal in his book Total Perfection also mentions a 17th century ‘tart of bread’ where bread and treacle are mixed with bread, spices and dried fruit and baked in an open pastry shell. Then just to complicate things further, Jane Grigson mentions that the predecessor to the treacle tart is the sweetmeat cake – again a 17th century invention – that uses candied orange peel, sugar and butter as a filling and no treacle or bread whatsoever!

All this confusing history waffle is giving me a headache. Here’s the recipe that I use for a treacle tart. It is adapted from Nigel Slater’s. I like it (and I have tried several recently) because it has a lot more bread in it than most other recipes – treacle tart should be chewy with a hint of   and must hold its shape when cut, many recipes fail in this respect. I use brown bread crumbs – it gives a good flavour and increases the chewiness level a little further.

There’s a pound and a half of golden syrup in this tart so the sweetness really needs cutting with some lemon juice and zest, and if you like, a tablespoon or two of black treacle; it’s not just a nod to treacle tarts of the past, its bitterness really does tone down the sweetness. This tart makes enough for ten people I would say. Be warned – if you go for some seconds, you may fall into some kind of sugar-induced diabetic coma…


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For the pastry

4 oz salted butter or 2 oz each butter and lard cut into cubes and chilled

8 oz plain flour

3 tbs chilled water

For the filling

1 ½ lbs golden syrup

2 tbs black treacle (optional)

juice and zest of a lemon

10 oz white or brown breadcrumbs

The pastry is a straight-forward shortcrust. Rub the fat into the flour with your fingertips, a pastry blender, the flat ‘K’ beater of a mixer or blitz in a food processor. Mix in two tablespoons of water with your hand and once incorporated, add the last tablespoon. The pastry should come together into a ball. Knead the dough very briefly so that it is soft and pliable. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to have a little rest for 30 minutes or so.

Now roll out the pastry and use it to line a 9 inch tart tin. Put back into the fridge again – you don’t have to do this step, but sometimes the pastry can collapse a bit when it goes in the oven at room temperature.

Whilst the pastry is cooling, get on with the treacle filling. Treacle can be a tricky customer: weigh it out straight into a saucepan on tared scales and then pour the golden syrup straight in. Add the black treacle if using. Place the pan over a medium heat and stir until it becomes quite runny, then stir in the lemon juice and zest and the breadcrumbs.

Pour this mixture into the lined tart tin and bake in the oven at 200⁰C (400⁰F) for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180⁰C (350⁰F) for another 15 or 20 minutes.

Best served warm with cream, ice cream or custard.

treacle tart

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Possets

I expected this post to be a simple recipe with a short history of the creamy dessert. However, as is so often in writing posts for this blog, it ends up being rather more complicated.

When I think of a posset, I think of a simple affair of sweetened cream thickened with an acidic fruit. However, this is very much a modern posset (by modern I mean twentieth century).

King Charles I

Originally the posset was a dessert or drink made from curdled milk enriched with sugar, alcohol (the most popular being sack, a sweet ale similar to sherry). It was often used as a curative for colds or fevers; it is mentioned in the Journals of the House of Lords in the year 1620 that King Charles I was given a posset drink from his physician. These drinks were kept warm and made in a special cup rather like a teapot so that the liquid could be drunk from beneath the foam that develops on the surface. Shakespeare mentions possets several times in his writings, in Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5, he mentions the posset’s medicinal properties and that it is made from curds:

And with sudden vigour it doth posset,

And curd, like aigre [sour] droppings into milk,

The thin and wholesome blood.

Possets were eaten for pleasure too though:

Yet be cheerful knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house;

Where I will desire thee to laugh at my wife.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 5, Scene 5

William Shakespeare

Kings and lords had their cream and curd possets, whereas we normal folk had to use bread to thicken ours.By the time we reach the mid-18th century, possets have changed; they are made from milk, but now are thickened with biscuits, bread, egg yolks or almonds, or a combination. Sack seems to still be the most popular and lemon possets make an appearance. Sack possets were drunk at weddings when it came to toasting the bride and groom around this time, though I don’t know where this originated from.

Possets 1769

Grate two Naples biscuits into a pint of thin cream, put in a stick of cinnamon and set it over a slow fire. Boil it till it is of a proper thickness, then add half a pint of sack, a slice of the end of a lemon, with sugar to your taste. Stir it gently over the fire, but don’t let it boil lest it curdle. Serve it up with dry toast.

Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper 1769

 Mrs Raffald also highlights the fact that you don’t want your posset to curdle: ‘always mix a little of the hot cream or milk with your wine, it will keep the wine from curdling the rest’. In the 19th century, Richard Cox in his Oxford Night Caps (1835) mentions those made from curds and those thickened with cream and egg yolks, so technically a custard, I suppose. Sometimes they were thick, and sometimes drinkable like egg nog. He mentions a black pepper flavoured posset that will ‘promote perspiration’ in order to sweat out a fever.

Here’s a strange thing though; if you rewind time back to Shakespearean days and look for a recipe for a trifle, what you seem to get is a recipe for a modern-day posset:

Take a pint of thick cream, and season it with sugar and ginger, and rose water. So stir it as you would then have it make it luke warm in a dish on a chafing dish and coals. And after put it into a silver piece or a bowl, and so serve it to the board.

Thomas Dawson, The Good Housewife’s Jewel 1596

You can see why a matter of no concern is called a mere trifle – they used to be so simple, but now they are complex and as the trifle changed over time so did the posset and it seems to have filled the niche left behind by the trifle. Possets, however, are no longer that popular. They are easy to make when cream is the sole thickener.


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Orange Posset 2012

Here’s the recipe I devised for an orange posset, which I think works very well. You can make a lemon one from two lemons and perhaps an ounce or two more of sugar. I have kept to its historical roots with the addition of a little orange flower water. This makes six helpings.

Ingredients

1 pint (20 fl oz) of double (heavy) cream

4 oz caster sugar

the juice of two oranges and the zest of one

juice of half a lemon

1 to 2 teaspoons of orange flower water (optional)

Bring the cream and sugar slowly to a boil and let it simmer very gently for 5 minutes. Allow to cool before adding the juices and zest whisking well; the acid thickens the cream noticeably. Add the first teaspoon of orange flower and taste, adding more if you like. Pour into six serving dishes and chill for several hours, or overnight. Eat with a crunchy crumbly almond biscuit or some shortbread.

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The Rhubarb Triangle

It is just about the end of the short British forced rhubarb season, and it is always a treat to see it nestled, glowing pink in a crate at the marketstalls, and it is always sad to see it disappear, as I think it is one of the most wonderful vegetables.

In Britain, the long thin bright pink stalks are grown in an area called the Rhubarb Triangle, also known as the Wakefield triangle, a nine mile square area of land contained by Leeds, Morley and Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Here, the rhubarb is grown in large, heated, low-ceilinged sheds in complete darkness. Because the plants want sunlight, they are forced stretch and grow long and thin in the vain hope of catching some of the Sun’s rays. Hence it is called forced rhubarb. It is also called Champagne rhubarb by some. The rhubarb never gets to attain the green colour like normal field or garden rhubarb has; I think the biological term is chlorosed. It also never gets the chance to develop the very astringent sourness too, but it does still has the wonderful rhubarb flavour. The plants grow so quickly in their desperation to find light that you can actually hear them pop and crack as they stretch and grow. I imagine that it is pretty scary in those dark, dank sheds harvesting the rhubarb by candlelight.

So what is special about West Yorkshire when it comes to growing rhubarb? Apparently, it is the unique mix of soil and climate. I know that that might sound rather trite, but I think in this case it might actually be true; Wakefield is the only place in the UK where one can successfully grow liquorice and the reason for that is because of its soil. Yorkshire-produced Forced Rhubarb has been given Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Commission’s Protected Food Name scheme, just like Stilton Cheese, and famously not like Cornish pasties. That said the forced rhubarb I got was from Mexico.

It wasn’t until the discovery that rhubarb could be forced in the 1840s that the vegetable caught on as a ‘fruit’ in crumbles, pies &c. (it isn’t a true fruit as there are no seeds). Before then, like many plants, it was grown for medicinal purposes. It was such a revered drug for treating gut, lung and liver disorders that it was worth thrice the price of opium! It was first introduced into Europe by Marco Polo from Asia during the thirteenth century, and was first grown in Britain in the mid-seventeenth century.

Okay, that’s enough waffle, it is recipe time. Rhubarb is great for desserts and jams, and it is also great with fish, particularly oily fish. There are many recipes that I could add to the post, but the best has to be…


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Rhubarb Crumble

This is my favourite way of eating rhubarb: tart fruit, sweet crunchy topping and loads of proper custard (link here for a recipe for that). I like to include some ginger in my crumble, they are a classic combination. Here I use it twice, ground ginger in the topping, and preserved ginger in with the gently stewed fruit. Orange zest and juice also work well as an alternative.

Ingredients

10 sticks of rhubarb, forced if possible

2 knobs of preserved ginger, chopped, plus one tbs of the syrup

4 tbs caster sugar

4 oz butter

4 oz Demerara sugar, or half caster sugar and half soft dark brown sugar

6 oz plain flour

2 oz oats

1 tsp ground ginger

Slice the rhubarb sticks into one inch lengths. If buying forced rhubarb, there should be no need for peeling, but older, field grown sticks might need it. Place the rhubarb and caster sugar in a saucepan with the ginger and syrup, plus a couple of tablespoons of water. Cover, and simmer gently until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Try not to stir the rhubarb too much, as it easily breaks up. If there is a lot of liquid, take the lid off and let it simmer away a little. Add more sugar if necessary; field-grown rhubarb may need more. Cool.

Meanwhile, make the crumble topping by rubbing the butter into the flour, using fingers, mixer or processor. Stir in the flour, oats and ginger.

Pour the rhubarb into a pie dish, or baking dish and pile on the crumble topping. I like loads of topping, but if there is too much for you, freeze the remainder for future crumbles.

Bake at 160⁰C for 45 minutes. Serve with custard, cream or vanilla (or even better, ginger) ice cream.

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What is a Pudding?: Addendum

Quite a while ago, I wrote a post called ‘What is a Pudding?‘ and it seems I made a few little errors within. I don’t like to be wrong, so thought I would put it right. The subject was a little essay on the origins of puddings – the boiled and steamed kind, which I argued was the proper definition of a pudding. I still don’t think I am wrong on that count, but I did accuse some puddings of being mock puddings:

So, a pudding is any dessert, or the name for the dessert course. Aside from the proper puddings…there are some that go under a false name: bread and butter pudding [and] sticky toffee pudding…are examples of this. Why are these puddings and, say, an apple pie not called an apple pie pudding?

Well it seems that I can answer my own question, at least in part. I was flicking through The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman by Gervase Markham which dates from 1615 (for context King James I of England and VI of Scotland was reigning) and it seems that some of the puddings that are baked today have their roots in the simmering pot. In fact a pair of my favourites – the rice pudding and previously accused bread and butter pudding are specifically mentioned. Their forerunners were cooked in natural intestinal casings – farmes – just like black puddings:

Rice puddings

Take half a pound of rice, and steep it in new milk a whole night, and in the morning drain it, and let the milk drop away; then take a quart of the best, sweetest and thickest cream, and put the rice into it, and boil it a little; then set it to cool an hour or two, and after put in the yolks of half a dozen eggs, a little pepper, cloves, mace, currants,dates, sugar and salt; and having mixed them well together, put in a great store of beef suet well beaten and small shred, and so put it into the farmes…and serve them after a day old.

To make bread puddings

Take the yolks and whites of a dozen or fourteen eggs, and, having beat them very well, put to them the fine powder of cloves, mace, nutmegs, sugar, cinnamon, saffron, and salt; then take the quantity of two loaves of white grated bread, dates (very small shred) and great store of currants, with good plenty either of sheep’s, hog’s or beef suet beaten and cut small; then when all is mixed and stirred well together, and hath stood a while to settle, then fill it into farmes…and in like manner boil them, cook them, and serve them to the table.

I was corrected on the sticky toffee pudding in that post… I wonder how many other puddings that are not boiled today once were? I shall go through the books with a fine-toothed comb and report back. More interestingly, I need to get my hands on some farmes and make these bad boys myself and see how they compare to their modern counterparts…


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Proper Custard

By proper custard I mean the pourable kind that goes on your pie, crumble or steam pudding. It also assumes the name cream custard and, of course, crème anglaise; you see it given that name in restaurants that trying to look all ‘high-end’, I suppose in many people’s minds, custard comes out of a packet or tin whilst crème anglaise is the real deal.

Custard in Britain has become somewhat of a travesty over the last few decades and I wonder how many people have actually ever eaten the proper stuff, whatever name you like to call it. I think it appears extravagant, fattening or difficult to make. Well it might be guilty on the first two counts against it because of the egg yolks and cream that are used, but it’s not really that difficult. All it needs is a watchful eye and a little stirring. There ways of making it easier to conjure up, as well as reducing its calorie count and cost, and there is no need to always resort going to the packet or tin.

Now, before you label me a custard snob, I need to point something out: I actually love custard made with custard powder and there’s really nothing wrong with it per se, but until you make the real stuff you won’t see they are almost incomparable. That said, there has been many an evening when I have a made a whole pint of Bird’s custard and eaten the whole lot to myself, but if there are people coming round for food, I always get the vanilla and egg yolks out.

Bird’s custard was my first contact so it will always have a special place in both my heart and stomach. However, technically, Bird’s custard isn’t custard at all, for it contains no egg (see the main post on custard). The powder was invented by Alfred Bird in 1837 because his wife, though she liked custard, was terribly allergic to eggs. Bird’s custard powder is simply cornflour with some vanilla flavouring and colouring. The famous three birds logo wasn’t introduced until the 1920s, surprisingly.

Tinned custard is pretty good too and, up until the last five or so years, it was the form I bought custard in if I wanted proper custard. My tinned custard of choice? Ambrosia Devon Custard of course – nothing else would do – and, like the Bird’s, I still love it. Again, however, Ambrosia custard does not contain eggs or egg products so is not proper custard.

Now you can go off and buy the proper stuff in the refrigerator section of your local supermarket, always called crème anglaise of course, but you may as well make your own if you’re going to do that. Next time you make a trifle or a nice warm pudding, why not try making the real thing – England’s only sauce as the French call it – proper custard.


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It’s a recipe that goes far, far back and I gave an early recipe a few posts ago (see here). I hope to try some old recipes in the near future. These days vanilla is the typical flavouring, whether it be in the form of a pod, an extract or as vanilla sugar, but it is optional. Some like no spice or some go for an alternative like nutmeg or cinnamon. For me, vanilla is the only way. It is sweetened with sugar and the amount you add depends on your own taste, but as a rule I like sweet custard, especially when it’s with a tart fruit pie or crumble or with a stodgy suet pudding. I add less sugar if the dessert is very sweet, like treacle tart or sticky toffee pudding.

When it comes to thickening the custard, you need to be careful not to over-cook it as it results in curdling. If you are new to custard making, the best thing to do is to replace two yolks with two teaspoons of cornflour; it works as a thickener like the yolks, but it also stabilises everything, so you’re less likely to make an error. The recipe below uses six egg yolks, but if you want thicker custard add another, or another teaspoon of cornflour.

Ingredients

1 pint of milk, or a mixture of milk and cream

1 vanilla pod or ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract

6 egg yolks or 4 egg yolks and 2 tsp cornflour

1 to 2 tbs sugar

Split the vanilla pod, if using, and scrape out the seeds and add to a saucepan along with the milk and cream. Bring slowly to almost boiling point. Meanwhile beat the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar together in a bowl.

making custard

When the milk and cream are scalding hot and about to boil, pour it quickly onto the egg mixture whilst vigorously beating with a whisk. Tip the custard back into the saucepan and stir over a very low heat for a few minutes until it thickens and coats the back of your wooden spoon. On no account, let the custard boil, otherwise you will get scrambled egg. The temperature you are looking to achieve is 81⁰C (178⁰F). So if you are worried that it will curdle, either make sure you include the cornflour and/or put the custard in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Don’t worry if there is a little curdling; simply pass it through a sieve and everyone will be none the wiser.

home made custard

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Pancake Day

Happy Shrovetide!

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before the 40 day long fast-a-thon that is Lent, so we best have a big-old festival, no?

No.

Where do you think this is? France? America? This is Britain, and whilst the rest of the Christian world is dancing, drinking, feasting and parading, we do not bow to such vulgarities, instead we have some pancakes and a nice cup of tea.

I jest of course; though between you and me, I would happily swap Mardi Gras for Pancake Day any day.

In Britain and Ireland, we make and eat pancakes before Lent because it is a very good way of using up main staple ingredients: flour, fat, eggs and sugar before the onset of Lent. By pancakes, we typically mean crepe-style pancakes, but the UK has a wide variety of different pancakes which are all delicious. I suppose you could add the griddle/girdle cakes to the list too as they typically use the same ingredients, but they are a little hit-and-miss, in my opinion.

These days, of course, we don’t really fast for the run up to Easter, but I do like to follow traditions, at least when it comes to eating food (I happily ignore the abstinence bits). I remember as a child, my family always had pancakes for tea on Shrove Tuesday and I don’t think we ate them any other day, I remember thinking you weren’t allowed to eat them unless it was Pancake Day. I have made up for this as an adult, especially now I am living in America.

It is traditional to take part in a pancake race on Pancake Day, which involves running a course whilst flipping pancakes. I have very hazy memories of doing this when I was little, but I don’t think that I have seen nor heard anything about pancake racing in the last 20 years, maybe more. It’s a shame that these things are dying out, I know many think it’s a little naff or twee, but I love stuff like that. It enriches life. Next year I shall hold a pancake race I think.

Pancake racing in the chemistry lab of

Westfield College, London, 1963

Shrove Tuesday is really the final day of a two-day period known as Shrovetide which was part of an unofficial festival called Carnival that ran from Epiphany. It was essentially a period of time for a lot of gluttony and frivolity in order to prepare for the nightmarish 40 days of misery beginning on Ash Wednesday.


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Welsh Light Cakes

I love all types of pancakes, but the best ones come from Wales. This recipe from Jane Grigson for Welsh light cakes is excellent; they are made with soured cream, which gives them a wonderful tang. I have never found a pancake recipe to beat it, so I urge you to give it a go. If you make these with British soured cream, the resulting pancake batter is thin, giving them a frothy frilly texture. If you make them with American soured cream, the batter is much thicker, making them fluffy. Either way results in deliciousness.

Ingredients:

6 rounded tbsp. flour

2 rounded tbsp. sugar

3 tbsp. soured cream

a pinch of salt

3 eggs

½ tsp. bicarbonate of soda

1 rounded tbsp. cream of tartar

4 tbsp. water

¼ pint buttermilk or milk

fat or oil

butter

golden syrup

Beat together the flour, sugar, cream, salt and eggs. Next, mix together the bicarbonate and cream of tartar with the water and as it froths, tip it into the batter and stir it in. Add the milk or buttermilk to produce the desired consistency. Less for thick and fluffy, more for thin and lacy.

Heat the fat or oil on a suitable frying pan, swirl it around so the pan is coated and pour out any excess. Add a ladelful of batter and fry until golden brown, then carefully, quickly and confidently flip the pancake and cook the other side.

Stack the pancakes on top of one another and keep them warm in the oven, adding a pat or two of butter to each one.

Cut the stack into quarters and eat with golden syrup and more butter if you like.

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Custard

I love custard. There is very little that can beat it in my opinion, especially during the winter months. By custard I mean the pouring kind also known as crème anglaise by the French and by people who want to sound posh. I call it proper custard.

Custard is essentially eggs mixed with liquids, usually milk or cream, and then thickened using a low heat. The difficulty with custard is that they can be overcooked, you want the egg to thicken, but if you go too far the eggs either curdle or go rubbery. Custard should never be allowed to boil, the perfect temperature is around 80⁰C (180⁰F). If you want thicker custard, you need more eggs, not more heat.

I started looking into custard and quite quickly realised that the term custard is actually quite diverse, falling into two broad churches, so thought I’d give a quick overview before I add recipes.

First up are the cream custards, i.e. sauces that are made in a pan and stirred like the aforementioned crème anglaise that is poured on pies, crumbles and steam puddings and the like and is used cold in trifles. Egg yolks and cream or milk are used here, usually flavoured with vanilla and sometimes scented with orange flower water or rose water. Many people think that proper custard is made using custard powder, but they would be incorrect. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bowl of Bird’s, but it is not proper custard. In fact, it isn’t technically custard at all as it doesn’t contain any eggs.

Bird’s advertisement, 1896

There is also confectioner’s custard, crème pâtissière, or pastry cream, thick and sweet and used to make delicious vanilla slices or profiteroles. This custard is unusual because it is heated until it boils, stabilised with cornflour. Also in this category are the fruit curds that are used in tarts, puddings or just in sandwiches. Here, the liquid is provided by fruit juice, typically lemon, but orange, lime and passion fruit curds are made too.

Much more common are the set custards which are baked and usually protected from the dry heat of the oven with a water bath. Whole eggs are used, because the whites form a matrix of albumen creating a gel, setting the custard. The more egg white included, the firmer the custard; useful if you want to turn it out onto a dish. Set custards are a diverse group. There is the classic baked custard, possibly my favourite ever dessert, but also lemon or orange tarts which are similar to fruit curds. All of these can actually be served with or without a pastry crust. Custards cooked in this way were also called douchets. Those without crusts include such classics as bread and butter pudding, burnt cream (or, if you like, crème brûlée) and crème caramel.

Then there are the custards that you don’t think of as custards, like baked cheesecakes or savoury quiches. There are set savoury custards made with meat stock that were once a popular starter, served warm with crisp Melba toast. I have also found recipes for cheese custard and potato custard.

I expected the set custards to be the kind that appeared first, but the earliest recipe going under the name custard I could find is from 1596 and is certainly a cream custard:

To Make a Custard

Break your eggs into a bowl, and put your cream into another bowl. Strain your eggs into the cream. Put in saffron, cloves and mace, and a little cinnamon and ginger, and, if you will, some sugar and butter. Season it with salt. Melt your butter and stir it with a ladle a good while. Dub your custard with dates or currants.

I have to say, it sounds delicious. I shall cook it someday.


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By the seventeenth century onwards, set custards had become popular. This is because they were actually more difficult to make than the saucy ones. This is because it was rather problematic to effectively use water baths, plus it was difficult to check the ‘doneness’ of the custards with the old open fires. As ovens became more refined, this sort of delicate baking was easier to attain so up popped puddings like burnt cream (crème brûlée), though the country of origin is somewhat disputed, though the earliest I have come across is from 1692 and is French.

 In the seventeenth century better ovens created more delicate desserts

Elizabeth Raffald was the Queen of Custard, her 1769 book The Experienced English Housekeeper contained no less than 13 custard recipes both creamy and set, sweet and savoury. I am definitely going to try some of hers, but here’s one that I can’t see getting round to doing as it uses beest, which is an old term for a cow’s first milk produced after calving.

Take a pint of beest, set it over the fire with a little cinnamon or three bay leaves, let it be boiling hot. Then take it off and have ready mixed one spoonful of flour and a spoonful of thick cream, pour your hot beest upon it by degrees. Mix it exceedingly well together and sweeten it to your taste. You may either put it in crusts or cups or bake it.

What is interesting is that it bay leaves are used; it’s half way between a custard and a white sauce. I wonder of the beest tastes extra sweet as well as extra rich.

Custard recipes on the blog:

Proper custard

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